Building Opportunities for Shared Work

Why hello there, strangers. It’s been a while… over two years actually. We’re still friends though right? OK. Good. So…. Let’s talk about communication.

I’ve noticed that people tend to talk about communication only when it’s broken in some way. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “Oh yeah, we communicate really well here,” which makes sense. Systems, or parts of a system, often only come into focus when they are not working well.

While I consider myself a fairly optimistic person in the workplace and (often naively) believe that I can breakdown institutionally ingrained barriers and cultural attitudes, I am limited within my Library’s hierarchy on how much I can accomplish alone. My current conundrum is by no means unique – I’ve experienced the same tie up at other schools and I’ve heard many similar stories from peers across the country. How do we break down the walls that individual units, departments, and institutions unintentionally (and intentionally) create?

The classic example of these barriers is the public-facing vs. behind the scenes division, i.e. public services vs. technical services. But these barriers can exist within a discrete unit, such as public services. Institutional constraints are likely to impede how often, in what format, and degrees of transparency of traditional communication. What I would like to explore is how to circumvent these barriers through shared work.

What do I mean by shared work? Great question, and I don’t know that I have the full answer yet, but I certainly have a growing understanding. By shared work I am referring to the types of work that get us thinking beyond our individual positions and responsibilities. Not ignoring our jobs, but figuring out ways to leverage our skills, talents, and experience in conjunction with our coworkers’ skills, talents, and experiences.One could argue that in most libraries, mine included, this is already being done in some capacities.

So what do I feel is missing? I don’t think we do it enough, nor that we do it in meaningful ways that encourage cross-departmental communication and collegiality. Current venues for this type of work at my institution are committee work on Librarians’ Council, committee work at the University Libraries’ level, and search committees. These groups not only share work, but they also enable casual conversations about day-to-day duties; they afford members opportunities to share their joys, frustrations, and accomplishments in their work; they bring to light areas of overlap in job duties which hopefully leads to partnerships or collaborative projects. But the fact of the matter is that I have never heard someone say, “I really enjoy committee work.”

So what can we do to encourage these kinds of interactions outside the context of committee work? And what does this different kind of shared work look like? This is what I’m left wondering. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for almost two years. (Maybe that’s why I haven’t written a blog post in two years!) I clearly haven’t come to any solid conclusions. If you have an thoughts or suggestions, please share them in the comments.

In the mean time, I’ll continue to go to happy hours with my coworkers and see where that takes me.

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4 thoughts on “Building Opportunities for Shared Work

  1. I’m interested in exploring how we can break down the traditional silos of the academic library to better support the work of the 21st century institution. I think I’m thinking beyond your thoughts on shared work (perhaps not) into a new realm that would require an organization, and people, ready for a radical change. Then beyond that, how would LIS programs need to change their curriculum? We are conditioned very early on to be siloed in our profession.

    • Ideally, yes, I am also interested in this, but I think in order to enact such macro-level changes, you need to start with micro-changes from the bottom-up. The people at the “lower levels of the hierarchy” are tomorrow’s leaders. (I hate referring to hierarchies, but they exist and to ignore them is a disservice to enacting change.)

  2. I am interested in this discussion as well. I appreciate Kat’s comment about our training. I am mindful as well of the current ALA campaign, Libraries Transform, that draws out and highlights our expertise. Do we continue to silo ourselves if we focus on our expertise? Or could our expertise be leveraged for breaking down walls?

    • Interesting… I haven’t looked at that campaign in a while. I will have to revisit it. This makes me wonder if faculty in other departments on campuses deal with this. Libraries are certainly unique institutions on campus, but do sociology professors or engineering professors face the same issues?

      For me, I think the focus should be on leveraging our expertise to break down the walls. This acknowledges and utilizes our talents (and creates meaningful experiences for individuals) while working to break down walls. I just don’t know the best route to do this.

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